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If you’re not using an anti-virus suite, but have discovered that living dangerously has led to your PC behaving oddly, there’s a fair chance that your system has been infected by some form of malware.

With no security suite on your PC already there is a strong chance that installation will be blocked by the malware, resulting in you having to find an alternative, smaller scale tool. Compact anti-virus scanners that can be quickly downloaded and deployed are a good option.

Here, we take a look at four tools from some of the world’s most well-known security software publishers, and compare their effectiveness.

Why Use A Basic Virus Scanner Rather Than An Anti-Virus Solution?

With dozens of suites offering a wealth of security tools and features, you might have found it difficult to find a stripped-down virus scanning tool that can be downloaded to your PC for free. This basic feature can prove vital to diagnosing an infection on your computer, but we often find ourselves downloading bigger apps, complete security suites with firewalls and bells and whistles like identity theft alerts.

muo-avscanners-found

Keeping it simple can save time and money, and these four free virus scanners – AVG, Microsoft Safety Scanner, McAfee Free Security Scan Plus, Kaspersky Free Internet Security Scan – are among those you might select, and are superior to online virus scanners 7 Reliable Sites To Do A Quick Free Anti-Virus Scan 7 Reliable Sites To Do A Quick Free Anti-Virus Scan Read More .

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When it comes to anti-virus, “free” does not necessarily equate to “inadequate”. To sort the wheat from the chaff, we’ve compared the performance of these virus scanners using a basic Windows 7 The Windows 7: Ultimate Guide The Windows 7: Ultimate Guide If you are afraid to upgrade from Vista or XP because you feel it is completely different to what you are used to, you should read this new guide. Read More device (32 bit) with 1 GB of RAM, 20 GB HDD and a single core CPU. We’ve assessed the competence of each application, its speed and its usability.

Fake Virus Files

To test the competence of these apps, we’ve used a safe virus signature known as Eicar. This is a text file with a string of characters saved in it, used in the field of testing anti-virus and malware software. The virus scanners we’ve selected should have no problem finding the file in all of the three places it has been saved to: the Desktop, the Documents folder and the System32 subfolder.

There has been some debate over Eicar signatures and their suitability for testing anti-virus and antimalware products. The idea here is that a competent product will detect this file immediately and report or remove it, depending on the scope of the app.

As the Eicar intended use page suggests:

“Using real viruses for testing in the real world is rather like setting fire to the dustbin in your office to see whether the smoke detector is working. Such a test will give meaningful results, but with unappealing, unacceptable risks.

…you need a file that can safely be passed around and which is obviously non-viral, but which your anti-virus software will react to as if it were a virus.”

Microsoft Safety Scanner

First under the microscope is Microsoft Safety Scanner, a lightweight malware scanner than can be run as an executable without installation. It features two scan modes, full and quick.

muo-avscanners-msss

Launching Microsoft Safety Scanner requires Administrator privileges, as well as agreeing with terms and conditions before starting a scan.

Sadly the result of the quick scan is inadequate, although it is fast, completing inside 6 minutes.

Switching to the full scan, meanwhile, it takes a surprising 75 minutes on a usually fast 20 GB HDD. However, all three files are uncovered.

It’s interesting to note that Microsoft Safety Scanner expires 10 days after downloading. This is because Microsoft are constantly updating profiles for the tool. To re-run a scan with the latest antimalware definitions, you’ll need to download a fresh copy.

AVG AntiVirus Free

Offering a full scan and clean-up of any suspicious files it finds, along with a full report, AVG AntiVirus Free takes around 21 minutes, and safely detected and isolated the suspicious files.

muo-avscanners-avg

 

Scanning is split up into sections, beginning with “processes” and cycling through the registry and system files in turn. Additional scan settings are also available.

McAfee Security Scan Plus

This lightweight scanner curiously requires installing before use – I say “curiously” because the end results are surprising. After installation, the app will proceed to check your virus and spyware protection, which it manages in record time – within 30 seconds! Sadly, McAfee Security Scan Plus doesn’t actually find anything.

muo-avscanners-mcafee

Although the utility will also check your firewall protection status and scan for any active online threats, its inability to find the Eicar signature files is a big black mark. Security Scan Plus from McAfee simply cannot be relied upon, regardless of how long it may take.

Kaspersky Security Scan

Kaspersky’s antivirus scanner offers two modes, Quick and Full. Running Quick scan, within seconds the tool detected that there was no antivirus solution installed on the system and has found one of the Eicar files.

muo-avscanners-kaspersky

Using the Full scan takes considerably longer, as the tool scans deeper into the operating system than – it would seem – any of the other tools profiled here. By the end of the 48 minute scan, not only has Kaspersky found the three Eicar files, it has also uncovered the virtual location of one of the desktop Eicar files (Windows operating systems from Vista onwards use virtual file paths for user data) and listed a collection of other potential security threats. Impressive!

Conclusion: Kaspersky Security Scan Wins!

If you’re looking at this quartet of tools to provide lightweight, easy antivirus scanning on your Windows PC, we would recommend the Kaspersky Security Scan utility. Microsoft and AVG both offer competent alternatives, but we would suggest you steer clear of McAfee Security Scan Plus, as it brings nothing to your computer security.

For further information and a better look at these tools in action, see our recent video, 4 Free Virus Scanners’ Accuracy Compared, on YouTube.

  1. My name
    December 10, 2014 at 12:17 pm

    Avira is one of the most accurated and with low impact to your resource ... don't you think =

  2. GR
    August 12, 2014 at 7:36 pm

    I personally would not use McAfee Anti virus as almost all the people i know that have used it have gotten multiple viruses. After they swapped to another program like AVG their problems with viruses stoped

  3. hotdoge3
    August 11, 2014 at 6:22 am

    To test the competence of these apps, we’ve used a safe virus signature known as Eicar.

    You be better to test with some Keygen most are bad and not hard to find

  4. Alpha
    August 6, 2014 at 6:23 pm

    I bought the AVG Antivirus Pro from Samsung Apps. SamApps had an ad on its first page recommending AVG as a must have for Galaxy phones. After downloading I found out that AVG don't provide services in Iran! I contacted both parties but none accepted responsibility. Never again shall I, my family, friends or relatives are going to buy anything Samsung.

  5. Lucian
    August 6, 2014 at 7:56 am

    Hi! Why didn't you include Bitdefender in your test? For about three years is the best antivirus in many antivirus magazines and tests and many of them are from Germany. Even NASA use a Bitdefender algorhytm. The two best antiviruses that are still beating for the first place nowadays is Bitdefender and Kaspersky, but Bitdefender take the first place with just a little.

  6. Jerick D
    August 6, 2014 at 3:01 am

    I'm using AVG Free for years and it didn't let me down. One thing to note, however! Keep updated if you guys are using AVG... they are pretty bad with keeping updates to their software (by update, I mean the actual software itself NOT virus definitions). One of my HDD got seriously broken because it cannot boot... Failure was traced to one of their installed files. Their software is fixed now but I still need to keep an eye out for these problems again...

  7. me
    August 6, 2014 at 1:45 am

    Malwarebytes anti-malware premium. 'nuff said

    • Jack White
      August 7, 2014 at 6:24 pm

      HELLS YEAH DUDE.... my first go to app when scanning infected pc's then I use Bleeping computer's ADWCleaner and finish off with kaspersky's free rootkit remover i forget it's name rarely need to use something other than these 3, any other opinions??

  8. madumlao
    August 5, 2014 at 10:49 pm

    I don't get it.

    AVG found all 3 viruses in the smallest amount of time, properly making sure to scan the process list first. Why did kaspersky win?

  9. David Shear
    August 5, 2014 at 8:22 pm

    "Here, we take a look at four tools from some of the world’s most well-known security software publishers, and compare their effectiveness."

    No you didn't. You asked them to do a single test on a non-virus. This is about as far away from a test of their effectiveness as you could get.

    There are a number of professional testing organizations that do proper tests on how well AV programs perform, including "The Virus Bulletin" and "AV Comparatives" I suggest you consult or refer to them before reporting wholly misleading "results".

  10. Jack White
    August 5, 2014 at 8:15 pm

    well I read the other day that Malware bytes got top honors in a recent test off beating out he top Av makers but then again like with hand guns the best safety is your triger finger, happy clicking

  11. William Peckham
    August 5, 2014 at 7:53 pm

    I would have liked to have seen the results of CLAMWIN (the Windows version of ClamAV) against these.

    • Godel
      August 5, 2014 at 11:54 pm

      CLAMWIN is a joke. It consistently scores about 60% detection rate in tests I've seen, as against high 90% for most commercial AV programs.

  12. Avijit
    August 5, 2014 at 6:32 pm

    Another Less popular Yet Powerful one is - ZoneAlarm Antivirus. It comes with Firewall also..and most of all - its free! After 1 year use, I found it powerful than others..Have a look on it.

    • Godel
      August 5, 2014 at 11:59 pm

      Zone Alarm scores poorly in tests, and most top AV programs (suites anyway) include a firewall.

      To see how commercial Antivirus programs stack up visit av-test.org and av-comparatives.org.

  13. Chuck C.
    August 5, 2014 at 6:13 pm

    I have been running Norton 360 for about three or four years now. About a year ago I had a serious problem with my computer being locked up because of a virus/trojan/worm. I paid about $100 to get it fixed online. The techie I spoke with on the phone said I apparently had been infected with sections of a trojan or a worm from various sources and the final piece gathered them together. In a later discussion with friends, I was advised of malwarebytes.com and I downloaded the free version. Since then I have had no problems. I scheduled the malwarebytes to run weekly and it has found several suspicious and dangerous bits of malware and quarantined them until I could eliminate them from my computer.

  14. peter
    August 5, 2014 at 5:45 pm

    Surprised you didn't mention Avast as it's one of the leaders and it's free

  15. @4nerdworld
    August 5, 2014 at 12:44 pm

    Owning a computer repair store, I use http://www.av-comparatives.org/ for statistical data, but real world infections through the door always come in with Norton, AVG, or McAfee. processing 5-20 virus/malware infections a week for 5 years, I only have single digit instances of ESET or Kaspersky.

  16. Hildy J
    August 4, 2014 at 7:46 pm

    The article isn't wrong but neither are the comments.

    For an independent assessment with tons of data including footnotes:
    http://www.av-comparatives.org/comparatives-reviews/

    For a bit less overwhelming chart:
    http://www.av-test.org/en/home/

    Still, the best antivirus is between your ears. Filter that eyes to clicking finger connection.

  17. Khaled H
    August 4, 2014 at 6:18 pm

    i like Kaspersky

  18. James Howde
    August 4, 2014 at 5:50 pm

    I agree with Dragonmouth.I remember many moons ago a PC mag I used to read absolutely savaging AVG (I think) for being totally useless.

    They apologised the next month as it turned out that in neutering their test virus they had taken out the bit AVGs heuristics used to detect it as dangerous. After all a program that does nothing to your system is pointless but it isn't exactly a security threat.

    • Howard B
      August 4, 2014 at 10:08 pm

      Exactly. I've had no problems with AVG Free since 2006 (a millennium in PC terms), except for one drive-by "fake antivirus" on XP that AVG failed to catch; fortunately, checking the Autoruns in Safe Mode allowed me to disable it and clean my PC.
      I've since installed NoScript on every copy of Firefox I use to prevent this, and I've had no problems since, with XP, 7, or 8.1. I've also since started using MalwareBytes Free regularly for a second opinion, and it finds little to nothing that AVG has missed.

  19. Daniel A
    August 4, 2014 at 5:49 pm

    Running ESET NOD32 Antivirus with Malwarebytes Anti-Malware Premium. Been using this combo for several years without a single breakout. They're greatly complimenting each other and been quite light on system resources.

  20. Stev O
    August 4, 2014 at 2:37 pm

    I'm using avast and it works well

  21. Zack McCauley
    August 4, 2014 at 2:36 pm

    @Dragonmouth
    To be honest...we'd all be long since dead by now if we had a EICAR test.

    You're also right about this. Any security specialist would be able to sandbox and load up a couple trojans, worms, etc. however I think this is pointed more at consumers (mainly the less tech savvy), so using a simple test virus is easier for them. However this is also deliberate deception as a test virus is useless information. Of course everything can find it, that is the dang point. It shows no real evidence of any of these.

    On to the article.
    One, this is a redux of an already done article that was in video form. Thank you for doing this in a non-video form that is actually easier to read through real quick.
    Two, you're missing one of the other top ones: Avast Free. I used to swear by AVG but they started bogging down your system with useless process' etc. We used to use McAfee in the testing environment here as well. Nope. Symantec. Nope. Kaspersky. Was great, till it took after AVG, and fills computers with logs and slows them down. It's more malware than anything now, not really just feels like it. Now it is doing that on my parents computers, and since they argued and argued with me on that, I'm inclined to let them deal with the crap that will follow them from it.

    I run linux mainly, and on my windows side I run Avast Inet Security. It works well, doesn't bog down my system, detects everything I throw at it, and it has so many dang features its rediculous :).

    • catweazle666
      August 5, 2014 at 4:43 pm

      Quite so.

      How about testing on virtual machines? My iMac has both XP and W7 running on it, which can be safely infected, played with and then simply deleted and replaced from backup with no possibility whatsoever of infection damaging any other system.

  22. dragonmouth
    August 4, 2014 at 12:45 pm

    Of course this test does not tell us anything about the scanners' ability to detect real viruses.

    "Using real viruses for testing in the real world is rather like setting fire to the dustbin in your office to see whether the smoke detector is working. "
    And using EICAR to test the efficacy of a virus scanner is like testing a human vaccine on a non-toxic agent. Did you ever consider that the above statement is just an advertising ploy to make testers use the Eicar product???

    Any half-competent security professional can set up a sandboxed system on which virus scanners can be safely tested against real viruses. I wonder where would humanity be if human vaccine researchers used an Eicar-like product to test their vaccines.

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